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Cost controllers

Finning has installed sytems on its plant to monitor performance, pre-empt component failure and improve customers’ profitability. Margo Cole reports.

Finsight_Engineering_team_at_Finning_in_Cannock_2

The increasing sophistication of construction equipment has been matched by an explosion in the amount of data that can be collected about the performance of each machine. Modern plant is fitted with a series of electronic control modules (ECMs), from which data with diagnostic information about the individual operating systems can be downloaded.

Machines can also be fitted with telematic systems that relay real time information back to the owner on everything from the machine’s location to the amount of fuel it is using.

But all this data is irrelevant if no-one is actually interpreting it and, as many plant managers and owners will tell you, they don’t necessarily have time to do that - relying instead on visits from mechanics to service their equipment and keep it running.

UK Caterpillar dealer Finning is addressing this issue with its Finsight customer support service, launched earlier this year. The service involves dedicated operators constantly analysing all the data that comes in from every machine, and then advising on maintenance and operation.

“Our objective is to leverage the data we’ve got to lower the total owning/operating costs”

Finning has been collecting data on the machines it sells for many years: it opened a fluid analysis laboratory in Leeds back in 1973, launched its own telematics system, Product Link, in 2006, which constantly relays data back to Finning’s HQ, as well as to the customers, and its servicing team also downloads information from the machines’ ECMs whenever they do a routine service.

“We asked ourselves: ‘How do we start to leverage all of this data?’” explains Finning general manager for product support Paul Ryder, who says that, previously, information from all of these different sources was typically kept in different silos within the organisation. “Customers started to ask more questions like: ‘How is this going to make me more profitable?’” he adds.

Out of the 18,000 Finning-sold machines operating in the UK and Ireland, 2,100 are fitted with Product Link.

They sent a total of 185,000 alerts in 2011, relaying real time information on component health and how the operators are using the equipment. The Leeds lab analyses around 214,000 fluid samples a year, and the servicing team looks at around 6,000 ECM downloads.

“Our objective is to leverage the data we’ve got to lower the total owning/operating costs,” says Finsight manager Lucy Couturier.

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The aim is to use the data to gain a detailed understanding of a machine’s condition, pre-empt problems and prevent equipment from failing by carrying out timely repairs and replacements rather than waiting for an expensive component failure.

The five elements that go into the system are: fluid analysis, inspections, telemetry, equipment history and site conditions.

“We build up the history ourselves, by looking back at a trend and using that to make predictions that could give us benefits for customer up-time,” explains Ryder, adding that the “fifth piece” - site conditions - is “really critical”.

This not only includes information about the physical condition of the site, such as the state of the haul roads or the type of ground the machines are running on, but also how each machine is being used.

“The biggest factor is the operator and how the machine is put to work,” says Ryder.

“This is a lot more than just condition monitoring in the engine or transmission in a machine. It includes how the operator is using the machine, where it is working, the history and trending,” adds Couturier.

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